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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Google Chrome: Integrated Spy Platform?

Google has unveiled its latest technological wonder: A Chrome OS laptop.

Chrome is a Google product designed to make web-based computing a rich and wonderful experience.  Since Google as a company is primarily concerned with delivering products via browsers they have taken it upon themselves to turn the browser into a computer operating system much like Microsoft Windows.

Android, their phone OS, also falls into this category, I think, but for reasons I will get to shortly.

With Chrome Google wants to integrate your gmail, blogger, Google docs, and all your other Google products into a single, integrated user experience - meaning that your mail, your book marks, everything you have in your "web experience" will be integrated by Google into your Chrome laptop.

The point of Chrome is that its all browser, all the time.  Just like with gmail and the rest you must be connected to the internet to make any real use them.  The Chrome OS laptop is, on its own without an internet connection, fairly dumb.  It won't be like Windows or Mac OS where you can do whatever you like when sitting in the woods far from network and cell connectivity.

This idea is not new.  In the past companies have created thin PC's (or thin clients) - the idea being that most of the real work would be done on a server somewhere else and you're PC (now seeming to be a quaint idea in and of itself) would really be just a "display, dumb PC, and network wire".  Geeky types will remember the venerable X Windows system available for Unix in the 1990's - basically the same idea in many ways.

Part of this is also the current "Cloud Computing" crazy pitting Google against Microsoft for the hearts and minds of users - but this is just buzz and noise.

Apparently there will be a Chrome App Store for apps though it will not be compatible with Android.  Now this last point is rather odd.  Why invent Android and Chrome and make them different?  Certainly Apple has gotten this right - one kind of App Store - one kind of app (yes, there are some differences but the hardware and application of iPad and iPhone is somewhat different; but the developer perceives the devices as mostly the same at many levels).  This makes the Apple app purchasing model consistent across all platforms.

Eric Schmidt says that now there will be "a viable third choice for an operating system on the desktop".

But why?

Why is a "third choice" really necessary.  I am sure that Google does not run Microsoft software in their giant server farms - no, then run Linux there because its free.  So the third choice they are already using is apparently not good enough for the rest of us....

Well here is my list of reasons why Google is doing Chrome:

1) Google as it currently stands today is a captive company.  Its primary product being only a sub function (search, mail) of one program (a browser) under any given operating system.  They are basically at the back end of the bus.  You can't lead the troops when your stuffed in the bottom of some grunts backpack.

They have to break out in some meaningful way so that what they do leads: hence Android, Google TV, Google Books, Chrome.

2) To lead you have to distinguish yourself from the other choices, i.e., Microsoft and Apple.  Lord knows there are enough browsers to choose from today and having one more is really, as far as I can see, a complete waste of time.

The Chrome browser is a big yawn as far as I can see - 10% of the market or so.  Firefox is around 20% and IE is around 60%.

To lead Google has to make the browser into something new and wonderful.  They don't control or own Linux so using that would be basically useless from a leadership perspective.

3) Google really wants an integrated platform - not of the usual kind linking documents, browser functions, mail and so on to make your work easier.  Not at all.  What they want is an integrated marketing and tracking platform - on that can track and monitor every keystroke, every browser mouse hover, every ad clicked, every app bought, and so on so they can sell it.

Microsoft and Apple do not have this.  I doubt Apple is really interested in this but I think that Microsoft is.

The future of computing, browsing, etc. in the workplace is going to be about collecting information about what you do so it can be sold to others.

Its the only paradigm that makes sense when looking at Google's entire line of products: Android + apps, Chrome, Google TV, Google Books, and so on.  Though each seams like mighty Google is fighting for your right to privacy, to use free and open software, and the like it really makes no sense that they would do this as a corporation.

No, I think its much more insidious than that.

They stand to gain what financially from Chrome?  Its free after all.  Sure they'll collect some app revenue - but Google's not going to be paying any significant bills with that revenue.

You have to follow the money: Searching, like Chrome, is also free. 

Google only makes money from ads.  They need to expand the ad platform.  To me that's what Chrome is - an integrated spying platform.  Its the only efficient way to collect knowledge about you with your permission.  Google wants to sell that knowledge, processes that knowledge, and track that knowledge. 

The more you give them the less true freedom you will have.

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